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NFL Draft Grades: NFC South

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Grading an NFL Draft immediately after it occurs is akin to giving your compliments to the chef based on the menu. It will take at least three years before we can truly assess how the 32 NFL teams fared over the three-day event. But waiting is no fun, so let’s take a take at which teams appear to have done the best job of filling needs and building for the future.

NFC SOUTH

Atlanta Falcons: After lots of talk of moving up, the Falcons were able to stand pat and still nab the dynamic edge rusher in Vic Beasley to fit in as Dan Quinn’s LEO defensive end. In a division this talented at quarterback, speed off the corner is mandatory and Beasley certainly provides that. Though he won’t scare anyone as a run defender, Beasley could push for 10 sacks as a rookie. He’ll be complemented with former teammate (and some would say better player) Grady Jarrett, who is likely to prove a steal in the fifth round. Both are intriguing fits in Quinn’s aggressive attack. Quinn is indeed the key for the Falcons, as his success as the defensive coordinator in Seattle lends credence to the theory that former LSU cornerback Jalen Collins could develop under his tutelage. Meanwhile, the Falcons nabbed solid skill positions prospects in slashing runner Tevin Coleman and slot receiver Justin Hardy, who could prove a quality replacement for free agent defection Harry Douglas.

Grade: A

Carolina Panthers: It is appropriate that former safety turned Pro Bowl linebacker Thomas Davis was the man to introduce Shaq Thompson as Carolina’s pick, as there are similarities between the two. Call Thompson whatever you’d like, his athleticism, awareness and ballskills make him a true playmaker, just as Davis (a former safety at Georgia) proved to be for the Panthers. Carolina continued its untraditional approach in the second round with massive wideout Devin Funchess, who physically reminds a lot of the Panthers’ top pick last year, Kelvin Benjamin. While neither offer the elite agility or speed to fit every offense, both can high point passes with the best of them – giving the strong-armed but somewhat erratic Cam Newton massive targets. The Panthers seemingly build annually to their running back stable and found another underrated talent in Cameron Artis-Payne. Tackle Daryl Williams, however, could offer more immediate impact.

Grade: B-

New Orleans Saints: The Saints addressed big concerns along the offensive line and middle linebacker with their two first round picks in Andrus Peat and Stephone Anthony, but frankly, I’m considerably lower on both of them than many, including (obviously) Mickey Loomis and his staff. I will acknowledge that Peat’s lack of a mean streak isn’t as important in New Orleans’ pass-happy attack and that his length and balance will be accentuated in this scheme. The hard-charging Anthony fits coordinator Rob Ryan’s scheme well, but he isn’t the dominant defender that his workouts would indicate. Edge rusher Hau’oli Kikaha was certainly productive at Washington and has the heavy hands and motor to star off the edge but (like Anthony) he’s isn’t the most disciplined or fluid changing directions, leaving him vulnerable to play-action. Cornerback P.J. Williams has the instincts and physicality to be successful in the NFL but must clean up his tackling, as too often he’ll lower his shoulder but fail to wrap up sufficiently. I’m a fan of investing middle- and late-round picks in quarterbacks and see potential in Garrett Grayson, but given the puzzling trades of some of New Orleans’ top targets, Drew Brees might be less than thrilled that a pick was invested in his potential replacement rather than helping the Saints win now. With nine picks (including five among the top 78), frankly, I expected more.

Grade: C-

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Put simply, if Jameis Winston can keep himself out of trouble, he’s going to be an NFL star. His awareness, pocket mobility and accuracy to all levels of the field fit in beautifully with the massive pass-catchers Tampa already has on the roster and the Bucs added a couple of speedy deep threats to watch out for in Kenny Bell and Kaelin Clay late in the draft. For Winston to have success, Tampa Bay must improve its play along the line of scrimmage and the Bucs nabbed two of my favorite blockers in the class with massive tackle Donovan Smith and featured Diamond in the Rough Ali Marpet, from Division III Hobart. Winston is a controversial pick but considering the focus on him, the talent at pass-catcher on the roster and the relative lack of defense played in the division, Winston is a very real Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate and makes Tampa Bay an immediate threat in a very winnable NFC South.

Grade: B+

–Rob Rang is a Senior Analyst for www.NFLDraftScout.com, a property of The Sports Xchange distributed in partnership with CBSSports.com.


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